Celeste is a game about climbing a mountain. A mountain covered in spikes.
As part of a recent Nintendo showcase during GDC, I got to try out a bunch of indie games that are coming to the Switch. Of those, Celeste was my favourite. It’s from the creators of very good multiplayer archery fighting game TowerFall, and it’s... really not much like TowerFall at all. Instead, Celeste is a platformer that’ll push you to the limit. And then off the edge of the limit, into a gaping abyss. Over and over and over.
Here’s what it looks like:
I played it for 30 minutes or so, and I can safely say two things: it’s really, really good and really, really hard. Death is constant, but you instantly respawn at the start of each small puzzle box of a room. I never got frustrated. I just wanted to get back to leaping, dashing, and climbing.
The game is extremely stressful. Many jumps require hair’s breadth precision, and death is basically inevitable if you don’t stick the landing. Despite that, the game manages a uniquely contemplative rhythm, as far as tough-as-nails platformers go. It’s not a mad dash like Super Meat Boy. In terms of pace, it reminds me a lot of actual rock climbing. You size up whatever’s in front of you, plot out a manoeuvre that you really hope will put you on solid footing, take a deep breath, and then go for it. If it works, you’re onto the next one. If not, you’re dead, because spikes.
The spikes are so pervasive that, after playing, I decided to ask developer Matt Thorson if there’s a story justification for them. Here’s how that went:
Me: Is there a plausible story explanation for why there’s spikes on fucking everything?
Thorson: [laughs] Well, mountains are dangerous, you know?
Me: Most mountains I know aren’t covered in spikes!
Thorson: I like to think of the spikes as more of a metaphor for how much turmoil Celeste is in when she goes there and how dangerous the mountain is naturally.
You can argue with a metaphor. That answer just trumps everything.
For years I’ve wondered why tough-as-nails platformers love spikes so much, and now I know: the spikes are a metaphor. It’s all so clear to me now.